An Evansville, Indiana/Owensboro, Kentucky Storyline Emerges from the NCAA Tournament Bracket [VIDEOS]
Christmas in March has arrived. I get an extra yuletide every year at this time (except for 2020, when the COVID Grinch swooped in and stole my beloved favorite post-season).
THE 2022 NCAA TOURNAMENT -- FUN KENTUCKY STORYLINES
On Selection Sunday, I'm like a kid, painstakingly writing down the names of every team on my homemade mock bracket, then transferring it to a regulation one which I will use to participate in one of the online bracket challenges.
When I finish, I begin to study the entire 68-team field and the matchups and look for possible upsets (you know there will be multiple ones) and great storylines. And this year, two really fun ones have emerged.
AN OLD EVANSVILLE/OWENSBORO RIVALRY RESURFACES
In that first-round game, 2-seed Auburn will take on 15th-seeded Jacksonville State. The coaches for those two teams are Bruce Pearl and Ray Harper, respectively. Any sports fan from the tri-state area is with me on this one--Pearl and Harper were the coaches of the University of Southern Indiana and Kentucky Wesleyan College back when that rivalry was red hot and USI and KWC were regular threats to win the Division II national title just about every year. That great rivalry comes up in this interview with Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl.
And now, the two coaches meet again at the Division I level and on college basketball's biggest stage. I can't wait.
INDIANA RETURNS TO THE BIG DANCE
For the first time since 2016, the Hoosiers are in the NCAA Tournament. Six years is an ETERNITY for a tradition-rich program like Indiana, and new head coach Mike Woodson knows how antsy the fans have been over the last half-decade-plus. They actually begin tournament play on Tuesday night against Wyoming; both are 12-seeds and are competing in a play-in game.
COULD WE SEE UK VS. A KENTUCKY TEAM IT'S NEVER PLAYED?
Naturally, if you're doing a story about fun KENTUCKY stories in the NCAA Tournament, you're likely starting with the Kentucky Wildcats, and I am. UK is the No. 2 seed in the East region. The 'Cats will have a first-round game against the 15th-seeded St. Peter's Peacocks. With a win there, Kentucky would advance to play the winner of San Francisco and Murray State.
The last time UK played an opponent from the Commonwealth was in 2017--a 79-70 win over Northern Kentucky. But this year, if Kentucky were to play Murray State, the Wildcats would be going up against a team that--believe it or not--they have NEVER played before. I had to triple-check that stat to make sure I read it right. UK has matched up against almost every Division I team from the Bluegrass State--U of L (of course), Western Kentucky, Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky, Northern Kentucky--but it has never scheduled Bellarmine (new to D-I) or Murray State.
MURRAY STATE HAS HAD A PHENOMENAL SEASON
Murray has enjoyed a remarkable season--going undefeated against its Ohio Valley Conference schedule AND in its league tournament and heading into the Big Dance with a 30-2 record. A second-round tournament tilt between the Commonwealth's two best teams in 2021-2022 would be an irresistible NCAA storyline.
Another one might not be as obvious, but I doubt the on-air announcers will let us down and remind us of what exactly the coaching matchup between the No. 2 seed and the No. 15 seed in the Midwest Region means, in terms of history.
The 2022 NCAA Tournament is about to begin with a little extra spice thrown in by UK, Murray State, and two coaches who used to patrol the sidelines in Evansville and Owensboro.
I'm already giddy.